The Inside the Council column with Coun Tim Swift, Leader of Calderdale Council

Coun Tim Swift, Leader of Calderdale Council.
Coun Tim Swift, Leader of Calderdale Council.

For the past two or three years, parents and teachers here in Calderdale and across the country have been speaking out about the impact of austerity on schools.

They’ve been explaining what this has meant in terms of larger class sizes, less help for teachers from teaching assistants, and reducing resources in the classroom.

Challenges: There is great pressure on our teachers and schools.

Challenges: There is great pressure on our teachers and schools.

The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has confirmed that over the past decade, school spending per pupil nationally has fallen by about 8% in real terms – the largest cut since the 1970s.

Now after two years of denying that there was a problem, the Conservative government have done a bit of a U-turn, suddenly promising to restore some of the cuts; but it will be some time before most schools see much benefit from this.

And again, independent reports show that this will simply mean that per pupil school funding in 2022 will about be back to where it was 13 years ago in real terms.

But our schools also desperately need investment in their bricks and mortar.

In 2009, senior Conservatives campaigning to win power came to Calderdale and made promises about the state of some of our secondary schools.

Michael Gove described Calder High in particular as “one of the worst school buildings he had visited” and the then Conservative candidate for Calder Valley raised high hopes that both this and Todmorden High School would be priorities for refurbishment or replacement.

Sadly, these hopes have been repeatedly dashed. Thanks to a lot of hard work by councillors and officers, limited and targeted improvement schemes have been possible at both schools – pieced together carefully from inadequate Government capital funds – but these have scratched the surface of what is really required. Even the sight of Conservative MP Craig Whittaker standing on the roof of Todmorden High School almost five years ago was not enough to unlock the hard hearts and purse strings of Tory ministers in Whitehall, and release the funding so desperately needed!

But it is the human impact of wider austerity policies that are now causing the greatest pressure on our teachers and on our schools.

Last Thursday, BBC Look North highlighted the challenges at one Calderdale school, where the head spoke about the impact that poverty is having on children and families, and the added pressure this creates for schools.

In a longer article in the national press, she described the work the school has to do to provide breakfasts for children coming to school hungry, and the impact of the hand-to-mouth existence of families with too little money coming in to the home.

The cuts in help and support services in the wider community have simply added to the pressure on schools, and this head is voicing problems shared across most schools in Calderdale.

Ten years of austerity have left deep scars across our public services and the wider community; it will take many more years, and much greater investment, to repair the damage and hurt.